INDIANAPOLIS — State election officials gathering this weekend amid an uproar over a White House commission investigating allegations of voter fraud and heightened concern about Russian attempts to interfere in U.S. elections say a lack of information from federal intelligence officials about attempts to breach voting systems across the country is a major concern.
Both Republicans and Democrats gathered in Indianapolis for a meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State say they are frustrated because they have been largely kept in the dark by federal officials.
“The chief election official in each state should be told if there are potential breaches of that state’s data or potential intrusions,” said Republican Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
The Department of Homeland Security last fall said hackers believed to be Russian agents targeted voter registration systems in more than 20 states. And a leaked National Security Agency document from May said Russian military intelligence had attempted to hack into voter registration software used in eight states.
That backdrop has drawn an unusual spotlight to conference, which kicked off Friday and is being attended by officials from 37 states. The FBI and Homeland Security were attempting to allay fears by holding a series of closed-door meetings Saturday on voting security with elections officials.
“We need to make sure we’re doing everything and anything possible in 2018. We need better cooperation from federal agencies,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat.
There is no indication so far that voting or ballot counting was affected in the November election, but officials are concerned that the Russians may have gained knowledge that could help them disrupt future elections.
The conference also lands one week after the commission investigating President Donald Trump’s allegations of election fraud requested voter information from all 50 states, drawing bipartisan blowback. The request seeks dates of birth, partial Social Security numbers, addresses, voting histories, military service and other information about every voter in the country.
Trump has repeatedly stated without proof that he believes millions of fraudulent ballots were cast in the November election, when he carried the Electoral College but lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton.
The commission was launched to investigate those claims and is being chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who sent the information requests.
Kobach was not in attendance at the weekend event, prompting Democrats to reiterate their skepticism of the commission’s intent and their concerns that the information could be used to justify stringent new voter security procedures that could make it more difficult for people to cast a ballot.
“For him not to be here is awkward, to put it mildly. What does he have to hide?” said Padilla. “If he’s serious about working with states to improve the integrity of the election, this is the place to be and he’s not.”
A spokeswoman for Kobach did not respond to a request for comment on Saturday.
It remains unclear what exactly the hodgepodge of data will be used for. Pence spokesman Marc Lotter said the commission will look for potential irregularities in voter registrations and advise states on how they can improve their practices.
But many secretaries of state say all or parts of the requested data are not public in their states. Some Democrats have said the commission is merely trying to provide cover for Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
The U.S. does not have a federalized voting system. Instead, the process is decentralized, with 9,000 voting jurisdictions and more than 185,000 individual precincts. Officials believe that actually makes it difficult for hackers to have any sizable effect on the vote.
Sixteen states and the District of Columbia have said they will refuse to provide the information sought by the commission. The other states are undecided or will provide just some of the data, according to a tally of every state by The Associated Press.
But some state officials, such as Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, say they don’t understand the concerns. Ashcroft said he is bound by state law that limits how much information he can release; the data he can turn over includes names, addresses and birth dates.
“Do I think that this is a case where there are politicians grandstanding? Of course,” Ashcroft said. “As a statewide official, I am not allowed to apply the law differently because I like you or dislike you.”
How states are handling voter information request
State-by-state responses to a request for detailed voter data from President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which is investigating whether there was voter fraud in last year’s election.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said there are questions he wants answered before agreeing to turn over the information, including how secure the information will be. Merrill also noted that while the state makes the file available to political parties, others must buy the information. It would cost around $32,716 to purchase the entire file.
Division of Elections Director Josie Bahnke says she will respond as she would to any request for voter information. Some information, she said, can be provided, such as voter names, voting histories and party affiliations. But other information is considered confidential and would not be provided.
Arkansas says it’s received the letter and will only provide publicly available information but not Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers or information about felony convictions or military status. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson says he recommended the secretary of state not release all of the information, calling the panel’s request too broad.
Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan has done an about-face and now says the state will not provide extensive voter registration information to the Trump administration. In a statement July 3, the Republican said the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity’s request raises privacy concerns. The state had previously said it would provide some records.
“California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, said in a statement.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, said he will provide some of the requested information. State law prohibits releasing Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers or dates of birth.
Connecticut’s secretary of state says her office plans to comply in part. Denise Merrill says in the spirit of transparency the state will share publicly available information. She says the state will ensure the privacy of voters is honored by withholding protected data.
Delaware’s election commissioner says she is meeting Monday, July 10, with directors of the three county election offices to discuss the issue and will provide an update afterward. Delaware officials have previously said they will not comply with the request for sensitive information, including dates of birth, Social Security numbers and felony history. The elections commissioner has said they are allowed to give out name, address, political party and voting history. But she also has said elections officials have been overwhelmed with calls and emails asking that they not share their information. She is working with her deputy attorney general to see if there is a legal ground not to send anything.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: Deny
“The best thing I can do to instill confidence among DC residents in our elections is to protect their personally identifiable information from the Commission on Election Integrity. Its request for voter information, such as Social Security numbers, serves no legitimate purpose and only raises questions on its intent. I will join leaders of states around the country and work with our partners on the Council to protect our residents from this intrusion,” Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser said in a statement.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner said the state will hand over information that is already public record. But Detzner said Florida law prohibits the state from turning over driver’s license information or Social Security numbers. He also said the state would not turn over the names of voters whose information is protected, such as judges or police officers.
“The Georgia Secretary of State’s office will provide the publicly available voter list. As specified in Georgia law, the public list does not contain a registered voter’s driver’s license number, Social Security number, month and day of birth, site of voter registration, phone number or email address.”
Hawaii hasn’t received the request, election officials said.
State Election Director Betsie Kimbrough said the office will fulfill the request if Secretary of State Lawerence Denney, a Republican, determines it complies with state public records law. The state allows handing over voter registration records that include voting history, but not Social Security numbers or dates of birth.
Ken Menzel, general counsel for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said in a letter to the commission that Illinois law limits the release of voter information to political committees and government entities, subject to a requirement that that the information not be released to the public. Menzel says that because the commission’s request indicates the data provided will be made publicly available, the state cannot provide it. Menzel also has said that under Illinois law some information, such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers, is not released.
“Indiana law doesn’t permit the Secretary of State to provide the personal information requested by Secretary Kobach. Under Indiana public records laws, certain voter info is available to the public, the media and any other person who requested the information for non-commercial purposes. The information publicly available is name, address and congressional district assignment,” Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in a statement.
Statement from Secretary of State Paul Pate: “My office received a letter from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity late Wednesday and has not yet responded to it. There is a formal process for requesting a list of registered voters, as specified in Iowa Code. We will follow that process if a request is made that complies with Iowa law. The official list request form is available on the Iowa Secretary of State’s website, sos.iowa.gov. Some voter registration information is a matter of public record. However, providing personal voter information, such as Social Security numbers, is forbidden under Iowa Code. We will only share information that is publicly available and complies with Iowa Code. I am attending a national meeting of Secretaries of State next week, where the Commission’s letter will likely be discussed.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is vice chairman of the commission, but even his office does plan to provide the last four digits of Social Security numbers because that information is not available to the public under Kansas law, spokeswoman Samantha Poetter said. All information that is publicly available will be provided.
“As the commonwealth’s secretary of state and chief election official, I do not intend to release Kentuckians’ sensitive personal data to the federal government,” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said in a statement. “The president created his election commission based on the false notion that ‘voter fraud’ is a widespread issue. It is not.”
Secretary of State Tom Schedler, a Republican, won’t provide personal voter information such as Social Security numbers or birth dates. He says the commission can have the information that is publicly available — but only if it buys it like anyone else has to. Schedler calls the effort a politically-motivated federal overreach. “The President’s Commission has quickly politicized its work by asking states for an incredible amount of voter data that I have, time and time again, refused to release,” Schedler said in a statement. “My response to the Commission is, you’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data, and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office. That’s it.” He added: “The release of private information creates a tremendous breach of trust with voters who work hard to protect themselves against identity fraud. That’s why it is protected by six federal laws and two state laws. This Commission needs to understand clearly, disclosure of such sensitive information is more likely to diminish voter participation rather than foster it. I have been fighting this kind of federal intrusion and overreach, and will continue to fight like hell for the people who trust me with the integrity of our election process.”
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said he won’t comply with the request. After consulting with the attorney general, Dunlap said Maine’s Central Voter Registration system is considered confidential by statute, conflicting with the election commission’s intention to make the information public. Also, Maine law doesn’t allow access to information such as Social Security numbers, full birth dates, voter participation history or party affiliation.
Maryland’s election commissioner denied the request after receiving an opinion from the Democratic attorney general, who said disclosure of the requested information is prohibited by law and who also called the request for information “repugnant,” and said it appears to be designed only to intimidate voters and indulge Trump’s “fantasy” that he won the popular vote.
A spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin said the state’s voter registry is not a public record, and information in it will not be shared with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
A spokesman for Republican Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said the department will provide publicly available information but would exclude data including Social Security and driver’s license numbers and full dates of birth. Fred Woodhams also said the commission would have to make a freedom of information request to get the data.
Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon, a Democrat, announced he would not share the data with Trump’s commission.
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, said in a statement Friday that he had not received the request for information from the Trump commission, but another secretary of state had forwarded the correspondence to him. In a federal court case after a contentious U.S. Senate primary in Mississippi in 2014, a group called True the Vote sued Mississippi seeking similar information about voters, and Hosemann fought that request and won. Hosemann said if he receives a request from the Trump commission, “My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.” Hosemann also said: “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”
In Missouri, Republican Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said he is happy to “offer our support in the collective effort to enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the system.” Ashcroft spokeswoman Maura Browning said the state is providing only publicly available information. She said that means no Social Security numbers, no political affiliations and no details on how people voted.
Montana director of elections and voter services Derek Oestreicher said the secretary of state’s office will not release personal or confidential information such as Social Security numbers and birth dates. Information already available publicly in the state’s voter file includes a voter’s first name, last name, registration status, if they are active or inactive and the reason the voter is designated as active or inactive. Voter information does not include party affiliation because Montana has an open primary system and voters do not register under any a specific party.
Nebraska Secretary of State John Gale, a Republican, says he’s willing to provide publicly available information, but only with assurances that the data won’t be used in a way that runs afoul of state law. State law prohibits the use of data for commercial purposes and does not allow the release of Social Security numbers. Additionally, the law doesn’t allow the release of information such as felony convictions or whether a voter’s registration status is active or inactive, so Gale won’t release that. He said he has concerns about voter privacy and wants assurances that the information is protected in any kind of national database.
Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske says her office will provide public information only, but not Social Security numbers or how people voted. The state will turn over voter names, addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, party affiliation and turnout.
NEW HAMPSHIRE: Partial
New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a member of the commission, said his office will provide public information: names, addresses, party affiliations and voting history dating to 2006. Voting history includes whether someone voted in a general election and which party’s primary they voted in. Gardner spent several hours on Independence Day taking calls from angry residents, and said the next day that he disagrees with critics who say he lacks legal authority to send voter roll information. He said he’s asking the state attorney general for an opinion.
NEW JERSEY: Partial
New Jersey election officials said Wednesday that they are reviewing the request but would only release information that is publicly available. Robert Giles, director of New Jersey’s division of elections, said that no information has been released and noted the deadline for a response is July 14. He said no information will be given out if it doesn’t “follow the appropriate legal process for information requests.”
NEW MEXICO: Deny
Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver says she will never release personally identifiable information for New Mexico voters that is protected by law, including Social Security numbers and dates of birth. She also declined to provide information such as names and voting histories unless she is convinced the information is secured and will not be used for “nefarious or unlawful purposes.”
NEW YORK: Deny
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his decision not to comply with the commission’s request for information. He said state laws include safeguards to protect sensitive voting information and that the state “refuses to perpetuate the myth voter fraud played a role in our election.”
NORTH CAROLINA: Partial
North Carolina’s elections board will provide voter data requested this week by President Donald Trump’s commission investigating alleged voter fraud. But the records will not include personal information deemed confidential in state law, including dates of birth and Social Security numbers.
NORTH DAKOTA: Partial
North Dakota, the only state that does not have voter registration, does require identification at the polls and does have a central database of voters, compiled with the help of state Transportation Department records and county auditors. However, the information can be used only for “election-related purposes” under state law, such as compiling poll books for elections. “We certainly can’t comply with that part of the request, but we are going to submit a response,” Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said.
Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, issued a statement saying voter registration information is already public and available to the commission but that he will not provide the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers or their driver’s license numbers. He also said voter fraud is rare in the state and that bipartisan boards have conducted reviews of credible reports of voter fraud and suppression after the last three federal elections. Those results are in the public domain and available to the commission, he said. He added, “In responding to the commission, we will have ideas on how the federal government can better support states in running elections. However, we will make it clear that we do not want any federal intervention in our state’s right and responsibility to conduct elections.”
A spokesman for the Oklahoma State Election Board said the state will not provide the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers. “That’s not publicly available under the laws of our state,” said Bryan Dean. He said the commission’s request will be treated like any other from the general public. The election board will tell the panel to fill out an online form asking for the information. Oklahoma’s voter roll is routinely provided to political campaigns, the press and other groups that ask for it.
Secretary of State Dennis Richardson, a Republican, wrote a letter to the commission saying it could receive a statewide list of voters for $500, just like anyone else. However, he noted that he is barred legally from disclosing Social Security and driver’s license numbers. Two members of Oregon’s congressional delegation and Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, had urged Richardson to refuse the request. Richardson said in the letter that there is “very little evidence” of voter fraud or registration fraud in Oregon.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, wrote a letter saying the state will not cooperate, but said the state will sell the commission the same data the public can purchase. It cannot be posted online, however.
RHODE ISLAND: Partial
Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea says she won’t share some of the requested voter information, including Social Security numbers or information regarding felony or military status.
SOUTH CAROLINA: Deny
The state’s election commission said in a statement that “release of voter data to anyone who is not a registered South Carolina voter is not permitted by state law. The agency may only provide voter data to registered South Carolina voters.”
SOUTH DAKOTA: Deny
A spokesman for South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs says the state will not share voter information with the Trump commission.
“Although I appreciate the commission’s mission to address election-related issues like voter fraud, Tennessee state law does not allow my office to release the voter information requested to the federal commission,” said Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett, a Republican.
Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos said Friday he will provide the commission public information and “protect the private information of Texas citizens.” Much of the information requested — including names, addresses, date of birth and party data — are already publicly available in Texas. Social Security numbers cannot be released under Texas law. Publicly available voter registration lists in Texas also do not include information about military status or criminal history.
Republican Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox says he will send information classified as public, but Social Security numbers and dates of birth are protected.
Vermont’s top election official, Democrat Jim Condos, said Friday he is bound by law to provide the publicly available voter file, but that does not include Social Security numbers or birth dates. Condos said he must first receive an affidavit signed by the commission chairman, as required by Vermont law. He said there is no evidence of the kind of fraud alleged by Trump. “I believe these unproven claims are an effort to set the stage to weaken our democratic process through a systematic national effort of voter suppression and intimidation,” he said.
“At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression,” said Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.
Secretary of State Kim Wyman, a Republican, says her office will send the commission names, addresses and birth dates of registered voters because they are public record. She will not send Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers or other information.
WEST VIRGINIA: Partial
The office of Republican Secretary of State Mac Warner said in a statement that state law prohibits disclosing Social Security and driver’s license numbers, phone numbers and some other details. The office also notes that it can charge $500 for the voter registration list and another $500 for data that shows elections in which each voter cast a ballot.
Administrator Mike Haas issued a statement Friday saying most of the information in the state’s voter registration system is public, including voters’ names, addresses and voting history. The state does not collect any data about a voter’s political preference or gender, he said.
He said the state routinely sells the information to political parties, candidates and researchers. It would charge the presidential commission $12,500 for the data, the maximum amount allowed under agency rules, Haas said. State law doesn’t contain any provisions for waiving the fee, he said.
Wisconsin law allows the commission to share voter birth dates, driver’s license numbers and Social Security numbers only with police and other state agencies, and the presidential commission doesn’t appear to qualify, Haas said.
Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray said in a statement he would “safeguard the privacy of Wyoming’s voters because of my strong belief in a citizen’s right to privacy.” He also expressed concern that the request could lead to “federal overreach.”